SUBJECTS — U.S./1865 – 1913;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Courage; Grieving (for a beloved animal);
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Responsibility.
AGE: 7 – 12; No MPAA Rating;
Drama; 1957; 83 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Movies as Literature Homework Project.
In this Disney classic, a stray dog adopts the family of a former Confederate soldier living in frontier Texas. The time is just after the Civil War and everyone is very poor. Despite initial missteps, Yeller wins his way into everyone’s heart and saves the lives of several family members. In the process, he is bitten by a rabid wolf. The film is based on the novel by Fred Gipson.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Dorothy McGuire, Kevin Corcoran, Tommy Kirk, Fess Parker, Chuck Connors, Jeff York, Beverly Washburn.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
This movie shows the marginal life of frontier homesteads in the West after the Civil War. The characters exhibit the courage required to overcome the difficulties of that environment.
MINOR: The youngest boy, Arliss, throws rocks at his older brother and acts recklessly, placing himself in danger, all without being punished. Ignoring his mother’s orders, Arliss almost allows the then rabid Yeller out of the corn crib where the dog has been confined for observation. If Yeller were to bite Arliss, the child would probably die of rabies. The failure of this movie to deal with Arliss’ misbehavior can be turned into an opportunity to tell children that rocks are dangerous weapons that can put out an eye or even kill another person. You can also explain to your child that reckless children like Arliss live simply by luck, and that their lack of foresight often gets them or someone else injured or killed. (Ask your child: What would have happened if the mother had been one minute later and Arliss had let Yeller, aggressive and rabid, out of the pen?)
This movie is sad at the end and children may cry after seeing it. If you don’t already have a dog at home, your children will probably beg you for one after they see this film.
There are a number of fights between Yeller and various animals (a bear, hogs, a wolf). These may be frightening to extremely young and sensitive viewers.
Before watching the film, briefly talk about rabies. See Helpful Background. Immediately after the movie, or at odd times over the next week (for example at the dinner table or in the car on the way to school) bring up some of the Discussion Questions, starting with the Quick Discussion Question in the sidebar. Don’t worry if you can only get through a few questions. Just taking the film seriously and discussing it is the key. Allow your child to watch the movie several times and continue to bring up discussion questions relating to the film.
The railroads did not reach West Texas until the 1880s. Before then, it was necessary for Texas ranchers to drive their herds to the closest railroad terminus points. Wichita, Dodge City and Abilene, the so-called “Cow Towns”, were the most important. Each year, tens of thousands of cattle were herded north on trails such as the Chisholm Trail from San Antonio to Abilene. It was an early cattle drive that took Mr. Coates away from his family to get “cash money.”
Rabies, originally called “hydrophobia,” is a viral infection that is almost always fatal if left untreated. Rabies can infect any warm blooded animal. It is spread by the bite of an infected individual. There are two forms of the disease. Furious (also called irritable) rabies causes the animal to bite and snap at any living thing. In dumb (also called paralytic) rabies, the stage of excitement is missing or very short. In the last stages of the disease, a thick secretion of mucous collects in the mouth and throat and the individual drools or spits frequently. Death is usually caused by a convulsive seizure or failure of the heart or the lungs.
Rabies has a three or four month incubation period. The story of this film occurs before a cure was found. When Mrs. Coates and Travis suspect that Yeller had been bitten by an infected wolf, their only alternatives were to kill Yeller immediately or to quarantine him for four months to see if he developed symptoms.
The first treatment for rabies was developed in 1884 by Louis Pasteur. He created a vaccine from inactivated rabies virus grown in duck eggs. This method cured the disease if given early enough. The course of treatment was 14 to 30 days and included painful daily injections. Boosters were required at 10 and 20 day intervals. Newer vaccines prepared from human cells grown in a laboratory are safer, requiring a shorter course of injections.
[No suggested Answers.]
2. Why did Travis insist that he be the one to shoot Yeller?
He loved the dog and didn’t want anyone else to kill him. He wanted to make sure the aim was sure and he wanted it done with love.
3. What had the father done in the Civil War?
He had fought for the South.
4. Why was money so scarce?
There were a couple of reasons. First, everyone was very poor. Second, the U.S. at the time was on a gold standard which required that for paper money to be issued, the government had to have gold on hand to back it up. Since gold was, and is, a scarce commodity, as the economy expanded, the government could not obtain enough gold to back enough paper money for people to use. In the late 1800s there was a great debate over this and the issue of whether to abandon the gold standard and adopt a bi-metal standard, allowing silver to be used to back the currency, decided several national elections. The bankers and industrialists of the day controlled gold and wanted a gold based currency. This restricted the availability of money and hence, so the theory went, kept inflation and prices low. The Populists believed that if a bi-metal standard was adopted there would be more paper money and an increase in commerce, salaries, and prices benefitting farmers and workers. The economy did not have a lot of money in it at the time.
5. What would have happened to this family had the corn crop failed?
They would have starved.
1. Who was the most courageous character in this film?
2. How did this family deal with its grief over the death of “Old Yeller.”
They got another dog. It gave them something else to love and distracted them from their grief.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
1. Why was Arliss dangerous to himself?
He would do things without thinking that exposed him to danger.
2. What would have happened to Arliss if he had been able to set Yeller free from the corn crib?
Yeller could very well have turned on him and bitten him. Then Arliss would have contracted rabies and probably would have died.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
BRIDGES TO READING
The book Old Yeller is appropriate for children 9 – 12.
This Learning Guide was last updated on December 17, 2009.